It was a curious juxtaposition March 22. I was touring the old locations — some of which still exist and are recognizable — of the early Laurel and Hardy films — films from the very beginning of the motion picture industry. We looked at Main Street in Culver City where so many films from the Hal Roach studio were shot. We looked at the famous Music Box Steps, where the comic duo lensed one of their most memorable sequences.
At the same time, the venerable studio Fox was being subsumed and forever changed by an acquisition deal in which Disney would take over the studio’s content and Fox retain the lot — to whatever purpose it wanted. Who knows what will happen to that historic lot?
And thousands of Fox employees had either already learned, or were awaiting, their fate, as the studios combined and got rid of personnel in duplicative departments.
The next Monday, March 25, Apple announced its entry into the content production business, with no less than Steven Spielberg, J.J. Abrams, Oprah — and Big Bird — backing its entry.
The old studio system is, if not dead, under attack. The new studio system is likely to include tech companies keen to leverage their distribution power to deliver content. Instead of Disney, Fox, Universal, Sony, Paramount and Lionsgate, will the new order be dominated by Apple, Amazon and Netflix?
“We feel we can contribute something important through great storytelling,” said Apple CEO Tim Cook.
It remains to be seen. Since when have Apple and the other tech companies been storytellers? For now, they are buying great storytellers with Wall Street money.
Near the end of the Laurel and Hardy tour, we saw a small plaque that recognized the Hal Roach studio that produced the comic duo’s films. The studio lot had been torn down, but had been remembered on this one small plot of land via a plaque. It made me think about what studios would be plaques 100 years from now — and what venerable names would be reduced to engraved remembrances.